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Villa Grove Principal Sara Jones discusses return to school procedures

By Tony Hooker
Sara Jones is entering her third year as high school principal of Villa Grove High School, and she recently took time from her crazy busy schedule to sit down with me and outline some of the changes that are in store for the 2020 school year.

What do you have to say about the year 2020?

I’m ready to have kids back in the school building!  I’m ready to have teachers back.  We’re ready to go.

There’s no precedent for you to fall back on regarding reacting to this pandemic, so who did you turn to for guidance?  How did you get through it?

There’s been a lot of collaboration with other principals.  There are a lot of teachers and principals’ groups on social media.  Our teachers have been getting ideas from all over the country.  We’ve been taking these ideas and then making them work for us.  Even in our area, every school is doing something completely different because it’s important to them.  We’re doing the blended method, every other day for a number of reasons.  1. It allows us to follow guidelines for social distancing while still being able to use our lockers, to dress for P.E., all those things that are normal, but it also allows us to prepare in case we have to go remote, while still making touching base with the kids in person.  In reality, we’re pretty sure that we’ll have to go remote again at some point this year, hopefully not for very long, but we want our kids to connect.  The remote learning that happened from March to May is not what we’re expecting this time.  This time, it will be much more like traditional teaching, just with different methods.  Every single day, the kids have attendance, whether they’re in person or online.  They have to log in by 8:15. They have to have five hours every day, and then two hours of instruction.  A lot of the teachers will pre-record and then do the labs and things live during the in-person days.

Is the new building up and ready to roll?

<Smiles>The classrooms are up and ready.  The gym was having lines painted on the floor this week.   It smells like a new building.  It’s kind of funny, because my end smells like an old building! <laughs> The kids are going to love it. It’s going to be a fantastic new space; with the gym and the stage it just adds something different.  I have about 20 kids signed up for theater, which is pretty good for the first year.

Will the elementary students eat in the gym?

They’ll still eat in the cafeteria, but this year, they’ll probably eat in their classrooms.  The high school kids will still be eating in the cafeteria, and the study hall and outside.  At some point, the little gym will be used as a multipurpose room, which could be that sort of space.

Any other changes that folks can look forward to as we ease back into this?

We’re definitely getting a lot more technology. We’re having to step it up, and I think the teachers will integrate technology more.  All of our students from seventh grade through twelfth grade have Chromebooks and we have multiple chrome book carts for the classrooms.  If a family has no computers, smart phones or anything at their disposal, we have a grant that will allow students and their families to check one out.  

Have accommodations been made for those families who don’t have access to the internet?

We’re trying to get hotspots.  We’ve found that there aren’t too many families in that situation.  However, if you live in a place where you literally can’t get internet on your cellphone or anything, we’re allowing those kids to come in on their remote days, but they’ll be in a classroom with a teacher. They’ll still be practicing their remote days, but they’ll be on campus. 

What’s the situation with sports?

We have the biggest cross country and golf teams we’ve ever had. We’ll have full boys and full girls’ squads for golf.  For junior high, we’re having cross country, baseball and softball.   Mrs. Acton has been working hard.  My coaches have been phenomenal.  I think they all have the philosophy that every day they get to spend with those kids is a blessing.

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